This JTA article (dated Nov. 7), “As Obama takes second term, Israelis wonder what the future holds,” mentions in it first few paragraphs, Young Meretz activists partying happily at an Obama reelection celebration:
Harold Shapiro wears ‘My heart on left’ tee, flanked by T. Bikel & L. Rivlin.
Most Israelis were asleep as the polls closed in America and voters waited for the results, but on one rooftop in central Tel Aviv a party with loud classic rock music and flashing lights was going strong.
It was the pro-Obama election-watching party of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party. Deviating from a solidly anti-Obama consensus in Israel — a poll showed Israeli Jews preferring Republican challenger Mitt Romney over the president, 59 percent to 22 percent — Meretz’s young members drank, talked and danced around a projection screen alternating between CNN and Israeli news coverage.
For members of Israel’s embattled left, the party was a chance to celebrate liberalism. Attendees wore bright green shirts reading “My heart is leftist” or sporting Obama paraphernalia from 2008. A cheer rose as an Israeli TV station presented a photo slideshow of the president’s life.
“We identify with the progressive values Obama represents,” said Tomer Reznik, 23, chairman of the Young Meretz group. “On one hand he supports Israel, and pushes Israel with the other hand.”
The green T-shirts mentioned, which our visiting delegation on the recent Israel Symposium also wore at times (as pictured here), bore the Hebrew slogan more accurately translated as “My heart is on the left” with a lower line reading “Meretz: the left of Israel.” Among the people we met was a Member of Knesset who represents a left political party that is not Meretz. Dov Hanin is a highly respected MK of the Hadash party; he is the sole Jewish MK (among four in the current Knesset) of a longstanding movement that is ideologically bi-national and not Zionist. It has in common with Meretz a commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, but Hanin sees Meretz as not speaking adequately to the Arab citizens of Israel.
Meretz addresses Israel’s Arab reality by promoting Arab candidates on its Knesset list with a form of affirmative action. As of this moment, an Israeli Arab is ranked fifth on the Meretz list, a placement that is considered realistic for election to the Knesset. But Meretz is overwhelmingly Jewish, while Hadash membership is about 15% Jewish and 85% Arabs. Hadash plays a price as a left-wing party for having such a strong Arab base, however. Aside from unfortunately limiting its appeal electorally among Israeli Jews, it also tends to be inactive on progressive social issues where Meretz is a leader: namely, issues of gender equality for women and the rights of gays, lesbians, et al.
Hadash also must transcend the legacy and stigma of Stalinism. Part (but not all) of its political lineage were elements of Israel’s Communist movement. Dov Hanin made it clear to us that he and the party reject Stalinism and embrace democracy. Meretz, on the other hand, is a member in good standing of the Socialist International, the international umbrella for Western social democratic and labor parties. Hanin did make a point that Hadash and Meretz have agreed not to attack each other in the current election campaign.
|Shani Chabansky with Noam Sheizaf (courtesy of her blog)
Noam Sheizaf, a young journalist who founded the chic left-wing online magazine, 972mag.com, also stated his preference for Hadash over Meretz, to support a party that orients more clearly (in his view) toward a society shared between Arabs and Jews. He admits to Hadash’s shortcomings: being less outspoken on women’s issues and sexual orientation equality, and having to stomach being in a party with some supporters of Assad in Syria. And he respects Meretz, having voted for it in the past, and admires Zehava Gal-on, the Meretz leader.
As customary, our Israel Seminar also met with Mohammad Darawshe, a longstanding friend who is currently co-executive director of the Abraham Fund. His uncle was a Mapam MK (Mapam was a predecessor of Meretz) and he was once a member of Meretz. He didn’t speak about this latter point this year, but I recall last time, his stated disappointment at Meretz for being insufficiently attuned to Israel’s Arab sector, which prompted his departure from that party.
Darawshe was one of two or three of our speakers who mentioned that the Israeli-Arab vote has trended sharply downward from 1999. In that year, Arab voters insured Ehud Barak’s election, but were disappointed by the former Labor party leader for not finally rewarding Israeli Arabs with a place in the governing coalition. The hopes of Israeli Arabs for achieving equality within Israel, buoyed by the advances made for them under Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s, have been serially dashed since (especially in today’s stridently intolerant environment spearheaded by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party).
Arab votes in Knesset elections have plummeted in the ensuing years from around 80% to barely 50%; this is noticeably worse than the growing apathy among Jewish voters. Darawshe also tellingly pointed out that Arabs have continued to vote at an approximate level of 80% in local municipal elections, underscoring that they are strategically expressing alienation rather than aparthy in voting so much less in national elections. He indicated that almost all of the Arab votes for predominantly Jewish parties have melted away.
A social manifestation of this problem was brought home in a recent film at the Other Israel Film Festival, “Ameer Got His Gun,” which tells the story of a young Muslim Israeli Palestinian who follows in his family’s tradition of volunteering for service in the Israeli Defence Forces. (Arabs are mostly exempted from the military draft in Israel; a few volunteer–mostly Bedouin– but only those of the Druse religious minority are subject to conscription.) Ameer is currently suffering the social ostracism that his uncle bitterly complained of, in their home town of Sakhnin, while also having failed to achieve the social acceptance they had expected from Israeli Jews. In the post-screening Q & A, we were told by the Jewish-Israeli filmmaker, Naomi Levari, that today, at the tale end of his three year service, Ameer regrets his choice.